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How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Author: Lauren Coleman

We spend about a third of our lives asleep. I have no idea why that sleep stat ALWAYS shocks me considering the majority of us find ourselves in bed for about 30% of the day. I’ve read many times that maintaining a similar daily routine and waking at the same time each day can be beneficial. As sacrilege as it sounds not to hit the snooze button and take advantage of lie-in at a weekend I’m still usually awake before seven on a Saturday. (Though I’m probably scrolling on my phone rather than hot-footing to the shower). The experts tell me that waking at the same time stabilises the circadian rhythm which in turn can help keep the digestive system and metabolism in balance. While I may have a fairly decent morning routine, my evening one is all over the shop.

On a winter’s eve there is nothing I like to do more than switch off the laptop, light a couple of candles and bundle myself under a throw to watch a boxset. Since I came to my senses last year and realised I needed to focus on one job rather than three my evening routine has become a lot less manic. Finally I’ve got to a good place where 9pm means Netflix viewing not inbox bashing, however I have absolutely no evening routine whatsoever. At the moment my bedtime is anywhere between 11pm and 1am. There was one night last week where I zonked out on the settee at about 9pm for about three hours. I climbed up to Bedfordshire at midnight and then lay awake for an hour or so and then woke up several times through the night. I felt so lethargic the next day and so I know the key to a good night’s sleep is not to take forty winks while watching TV. Does anyone else find themselves doing this? Falling asleep in front of the box and then counting sheep for the rest of the night?
As I mentioned previously I don’t have a ‘set’ bedtime and dependent on what I’m up to that evening it can fluctuate by a few hours. Sometimes I have to admit I’m shattered but can’t seem to find the energy to go and get ready for bed. Oh the irony.
I am next to useless if I get less than six hours sleep. As with anyone it affects me mentally and physically; I feel more emotional, am more prone to illness, lack creativity and make poor dietary choices when I’m tired. However generally I don’t see any benefit if I have six hours of sleep or if I get more than eight. Other than when I have periods of anxiety I’d say I’m a ‘good sleeper’ providing I’m in my own bed I get some good quality shut-eye.

It’s no secret that Maggie Thatcher used to get by on 4 hours a night but I’ve never met anyone who can function on that little. I tell a lie there, every mother I know but that’s often not by choice. Apparently the national average sleeping period is six and a half hours so I’m intrigued to know how much sleep you feel you need and if you have a bedtime routine. So far my fluctuating nighttime routine doesn’t seem to have much impact.
Do you find eight hours the magic number? Do you survive on much less sleep? Do you have the same bedtime every night?

If you’re struggling with sleep then please do check out our archive feature on CBT and insomnia.

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29 thoughts on “How Much Sleep Do You Need?

  1. Ah sleep. I miss it (pointed glance at 4 month old).
    I too am rubbish about going to bed and get distracted which always annoys me later – sleep is ace!!
    I do find that taking my makeup off and doing the whole skincare routine (and even my teeth) earlier in the evening helps as when I feel tired I can just go to bed, rather than having to start 10/15 minutes of getting ready which probably puts me off when I’m already shattered!

    1. Oh Katie, I’m sure the lack of sleep is worth it though!
      I need to get much better at taking my make-up off earlier. I think it must be far better for your skin too.

  2. You should read “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker. It’s annoying in places (so androcentric and spots of evolutionary pop psychology) but the hard science is great- experiments have shown anything under 7 hours does affect you, whether you notice it or not, in things like reaction times and ability to learn. Irritatingly he doesn’t suggest how this works when you have small children so I only have my anecdotal evidence of sleep deprivation to offer!

    Since getting a FitBit I have found that 6 is my magic number: I need at least 6 hours to function and ideally 7. If I stay up late writing (kids in bed and asleep by 8, dinner debris cleared, start writing by 9 so yeah this happens a lot) I am reliant on both of them sleeping well and if they don’t I am screwed. I also find I catch up on R.E.M. sleep first if I get sleep deprived- and then feel dreadful as my dreams are very intense and not restful at all! I only got the FitBit for sport but it’s been very interesting all round.

    1. That’s really interesting Lucy. Maybe my reactions are slower on the days following a shorter sleep. Will check out Matthew Walker – thanks for that.

  3. Yup. Anything less than 8 hours and I’m basically the walking dead meets satanic bitch. I have toddler form for tiredness and hunger. I just can’t cope. When I’m tired, I have to sleep – I’ve fallen asleep in so many nightclubs when I’m tired. Life and soul of the party – whoop whoop.

    I get home at 7pm, babies in bed, eat at 8 as we watch an hour or two of TV then asleep by 10pm up at 6am. My husband used to be a night owl but we can’t with the kids – whatever time we put them to bed they wake up at 6am.

    1. Walking dead meets satanic bitch! Ha ha that made me laugh though I’m definitely like that on less than six hours.

          1. Ha ha! You came through with a slightly different email address to previously so it saw you as a new user which we always have to approve.

  4. Oh Lauren this is so timely as today i do feel like the extremely bad tempered walking dead – wasn’t that late to bed (ie lights out before 11) but a restless night and then v early alarm is meaning I am not equipped to adult today!
    My fitbit tells me off for my lack of night time routine – so now i am trying very hard to be in the process of going to bed by 10pm – it doesn’t always work. Again with Fitbit analysis – i am ok on between 6-7hrs avg a night – but do always feel better if I have a couple of nights of solid uninterrupted sleep.
    I am just a very light sleeper – and always have been (the stories my poor mother can tell of the horrors of extreme sleep deprivation that i subjected her to!!) I have found that sleep sprays for the pillow do help – i do still wake up but I can get back to sleep a lot quicker – and before the brain starts whirring!
    So apologies for that very long rambling reply – today is tired tuesday!! 🙂

    1. I had a bit of an anxious time recently and found that counting backwards from 100 to 1 helped me drift back off in the middle of the night. I tried it after someone recommended counting backwards in french but I realised I think I’d struggle doing that from 1 to 100 let alone 100 to 1! One to try if the brain starts whirring again.
      Hope you get through today okay x

      1. This is something my mother-in-law has said she used to swear by for getting to sleep when she could’ve stop thinking about things and I have to say it seems to work for me too.

  5. Good post Lauren, lack of sleep is just the worst and that light headed feeling that comes with it after a prolonged period. I can manage on 6/7 sleep for a couple of days as long as I have a good 8/ 9 hour stint every few days.
    As suggested in another comment taking make up off and doing that routine earlier in the evening really has helped when it comes to bed time. I tend to do this once the kids are in bed at about 7. I’ve found that rather than having the same routine every evening trying to have a couple of nights where I don’t watch any tv really makes a difference. Either read on the sofa or have a bath.
    Roll on spring and spending more time outside as that definitely makes for better sleep!

    1. Oh yes Ella, doesn’t it?! Charlotte mentioned recently there’s a nursery near her where on fine days the littles are put outside in their prams for their naps as the quality of sleep is much better. We all need to sleep al fresco it seems!

  6. Another book recommendation here called Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson (also check out his podcast episodes on sleep on his show The Model Health show). Between this book and seeing a health coach when I was in Australia for some ongoing problems, I would say that fixing my sleep habits and getting better quality sleep (rather than quantity) is probably the biggest health investment I’ve made. It’s reduced my anxiety and a host of of other recurring health issues I was having. Time wise, about 7 hours is right for me. But only if I follow my ‘sleep hygiene’ (as the experts call it) routine.

    1. Naomi this is so interesting – the quality over quantity. Do you mind me asking what you do differently now?

  7. I am a big sleeper! They were discussing Maggie Thatcher the other day on the Radio and the sleep experts said that different people really do need a different amount of sleep every night (although 4 hours over a sustained period of time would be detrimental to everyone!) I have to say I am an 8 or 9 hour a night kind of girl. I like to get into my pjs straight after work, take all my make up off and do my skin care and then I know I am prepped and ready for bed, otherwise like you, I get too tired! I go up at 10pm every night and unwind for half an hour or so, read in bed etc and I am asleep by 11. I feel like the routine really helps as often on a Friday night I cant keep my eyes open past 11pm! X

    1. That’s the worst thing about a routine – that if you want to get out of it for any reason it’s really hard! Sometimes I’d love to sleep in past seven on a Sunday but my body has none of it!

  8. Usually my ideal sleep situation is about 10.30-7. I feel refreshed and don’t struggle with tiredness / lethargy if I can sustain that pattern over a period of time. The last time I was able to do that, however, was probably the early half of 2014 before my son was born … 🤦🏼‍♀️

    I now also have a 4 week old daughter and am well in the throes of sleep deprivation: no more than 3 hours at a stretch, at least 90 minutes awake in between feeds… it’s a mess. I’m a mess. I’m craving sugar, falling asleep on the sofa at 7pm but unable nap during the day, forgetful, snappy and emotional. (Although it’s hard to know how much of this is due to sleeplessness or postpartum hormonal imbalance).

    I know this worst period is time limited and will improve but it’s so hard in the meantime, especially when the 3 year old wants to play Ninja Turtles AND bake cakes AND go out on his scooter AND duet the entire soundtrack to ‘Sing’. All before 9am. And I haven’t drunk the regulation 7 cups of coffee by then….

  9. I usually get 6.5 to 7 hours sleep and feel ok on this, but a I notice the difference in how much better I feel after an extra hour in bed at the weekend. In my late teens/early twenties when I was gallivanting until all hours I was fine only 4 hours sleep – looking back I’m not quite sure how I managed it! To be that young and care free again…

  10. And another book recommendation! The Four Pillar Plan by Dr Chatterjee. It is a great book in terms of being not too dense with information, non-faddy and very sensible. Even for someone like myself who has an interest in health-related matters, I learned some new info. Anyway, there is a section on sleep (and relaxation) which talks about a lot of sleep-hygiene items which have definitely improved my sleep – and to be honest, I didn’t feel like I had a huge problem before. However, I was terrible at falling asleep on the sofa and then getting mad when I woke up – and in the process of teeth cleaning/face washing would wake myself up even more and have trouble going to sleep in bed. I was also convinced I need an audiobook/podcast/radio to sleep in bed.
    Some of the sleep hygiene tips were about getting exposure to daylight in the morning to help circadian rhythm, no caffeine after midday. Also keep phone out of bedroom -I now plug mine in downstairs at 9pm and don’t look at it again until morning. And probably the most important this is actually tuning in and listening to my body and realising when I am actually tired in the evening and getting into bed -rather than watching another episode! Often get into bed 9:30-10pm and read for a bit, then drop off. Best sleeping routine I’ve ever had X

  11. I spent 10+ year getting about 7.5 hours sleep (10.30-6am). I started working from home in May 2017 and getting up when I want means I get up at about 7:30am. The extra 1.5 hours makes do much difference. I’m now about a 9 hours a day sleeper, the difference being my sister says I’m now longer always tired…

  12. Just to say I’m loving the mix of content at the mo! I was worried I’d miss RMF but actually the balance of family stuff in with the normal RMS articles is great.
    On the sleep front, I need about 7 hours which is tricky to achieve and still have any evening left after toddler bedtime/clear up/dinner but we try and stop by 9, watch an episode of something then bed at 10. Rock and roll!

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